Zesty Lemon Tarts & Clotted Cream

The start of the New Year can be a turbulent time. Certainly, the 1st of January, whilst literally the first day of the first month, has come to be symbolic of a deeper, more profound opportunity for personal change. Whilst this catalytic association can be motivational and constructive, it can also be in some cases the opposite, causing feelings of despair or failure when we trip up on our well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions. 

There is in my opinion, a strong societal pressure which exerts via the myriad of expressive social media platforms, that our previous year’s selves were in some way imperfect, and in need of fine tuning. Thus, we expect ourselves, and others, to behave differently, often restrictively. What is lost during this New Year regime is balance; the rational side of us is victim to extremism, as ‘cutting down’ becomes ‘cutting out’ completely, and where as a result, we are not better people in the New Year, but miserable, irritable and most definitely hungry.  

However, the New Year doesn’t have to be this way. In my home we welcomed the New Year with a special family dinner, which of course included a rather indulgent dessert; zesty lemon tarts with clotted cream & pistachios. The laughter around the table, the shared enjoyment of each other’s company and the appreciation of the food before us are to me, the celebratory hallmarks of a successful start to 2018. Whilst change is important, so too are enjoyment and balance. 

Below is the recipe for my New Year dessert. This recipe is one of my favourites to prepare ahead, as once made, the lemon cream can be kept for up to a week in the fridge, and the pastry cases can be baked up to three days before serving. The two simply need to be combined on the day and given a couple of hours to set together. The lemon cream uses both lemon zest and juice for an extra citrus zing, which is complemented by the buttery, rich vanilla bean pastry. The pastry here also uses mahleb, a spice which derives from the ground seeds from of a special type of cherry, and has a delicious bitter almond flavour. 

Makes 10 x 8cm individual tarts 

Vanilla & Mahleb Pastry
200g plain flour
18g ground almonds
40g golden icing sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
2tsp mahleb
130g unsalted butter (French butter works exceptionally well; cubed and chilled)
1 large free range egg yolk
1tsp vanilla paste
2tsp very cold water 

Lemon Cream
300ml lemon juice
Zest of four large lemons
300g golden caster sugar
4 free range eggs
4 free range egg yolks
460g unsalted butter (cubed and chilled)


For the Pastry

  1. Combine the flour, ground almonds, golden icing sugar, salt and mahleb in a large bowl. Whisk together to combine. 
  2. Add the cubed, cold butter and rub in with your fingertips until a fine breadcrumb consistency is achieved.
  3. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and water and bring together to form a smooth dough.
  4. Flatten into a round disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight before use.
  5. When ready to use, preheat the oven to 180c (fan assisted) and remove the pastry from the fridge; allow to stand for 20 minutes to soften slightly. 
  6. Lightly dust a worktop with flour and roll the pastry to approximately 2mm thin. 
  7. Place a tart ring on the pastry and use this as a guide to cut larger circles that will give sufficient pastry to line the individual rings, approximately 12-15cm.
  8. Line each of the tart rings with pastry, place on a baking tray and chill for at least 1 hour until firm. 
  9. Line each tart ring with a quadruple layer of bake safe cling film and fill with baking beans or rice, closing the cling film at the top to create little parcels. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the cling film parcels and reduce the oven to 160c. Return the tarts to the oven for a further 10 minutes, then remove and egg wash, returning the tarts to the oven for a further 2 minutes to set the egg wash. The tarts should be golden brown and crisp. 
  10. Allow the tart shells to cool completely before filling with the lemon cream. 

For the Lemon Cream

  1. Whisk the caster sugar and lemon zest together in a large bowl; this helps to extract the natural oils from the lemon skin, which penetrates the sugar, leading to a stronger citrus flavour. 
  2. Place the lemony sugar in a large pan with the lemon juice, eggs and yolks. Cook on a medium-low heat, stirring constantly but gently, until the mixture reaches 80c and starts to thicken. 
  3. Sieve the mixture into a large bowl and allow to cool to slightly warmer than room temperature, then add the butter a little at a time, combining with a stick blender until silky and pale yellow. 
  4. Place cling film directly onto the surface of the cream and then wrap well, placing in the fridge overnight to intensify in flavour and set. 
  5. On the day of serving the dessert, remove the cream from the fridge and stir to loosen. Spoon the cream into a piping bag and neatly pipe into each baked tart case until full. Level with a palette knife and return to the fridge for at least two hours to set.
  6. When ready to serve, remove the tarts from the fridge and accompany with a generous spoonful of clotted cream and crushed pistachio nuts.
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